Talking to Our Children About World Tragedies

In the last decade, researchers in the fields of neuroscience and epigenetics have made exciting advances toward decoding how our way of thinking can actually change our bodies. Research has revealed that the thoughts we think have the power to make us sick or keep us well, and can even impact the expression of our genes.  Our very brain chemistry and the actual structure of our neural pathways are influenced by mood and stress, both of which are reflections of how we interpret what goes on in our lives.

IMAG0486.JPGAbout the Author

Tamara Brennan, PhD, is a mom, psychologist and writer living in the borderlands of Mexico and Guatemala. She is the Executive Director of the Sexto Sol Center for Community Action and the creator of the Our Cozy Time Story Club, featuring her original stories for children, where she blogs about Attachment Parenting.

She has written several articles for Attachment Parenting International, including “Protecting Children From Our Pain About the World,”  “Helping My Young Child Adjust to a Change of Caregivers” and “The Parade of Little Girls,” which details the heartbreak when a child’s playmate no longer wants to be friends.

We now know that early childhood impressions play an important role in how the nervous system develops. In general, chronic fear, worry and stress can change brain structures and even create a predisposition for specific chemical responses that affect a whole gamut of physiologic processes. What is profoundly significant is that these chemical responses ultimately have the power to set a person up for a certain feeling state that will be their set point — their baseline mood — for the rest of their life.

So, when a child grows with the experience of being secure in a safe world, they develop a brain and chemistry that support a happier feeling state from which to create their lives. On the other hand, exposure to violence in childhood does the opposite. In the extreme, prison populations are made up of a high number of individuals who were exposed to an inordinate level of violence as children.  So it’s not just a lack of morality or conditioning that leads to anti-social behavior — it has a physical origin as well, due to the changes that long-term stress causes in the nervous system.

There is an aspect of a child’s developing brain that can give us another reason to keep the filter of protection around our precious children. It has to do with the measurable frequencies of electrical impulse that the brain puts out. Different frequencies correspond to different levels of awareness.

Until around the age of 7, a child’s brain functions predominantly in the theta wave range. When a person is in the theta level of brain activity, they experience a state of consciousness that serious meditators achieve after years of dedicated practice. We go into theta during REM sleep when we are actively dreaming. A person deprived of REM sleep for a few days can suffer from serious psychological consequences simply from not being renewed when the brain enters the theta state.

Theta is the brain state in which a person can access their highest aspirations and creative inspiration. Our children live in that state much more of the time when they are small, as compared to adults. It is later in a child’s development that the alpha and beta states start to replace the magical, rarified vibration of theta in the brain activity.

In alpha and beta, our awareness is ruled by the chatter of the mind — which gets its information from the warehouse of the subconscious where all our traumas and painful experiences are stored.  Have you noticed how often the mind’s messages are not exactly soothing or even kind?  For a lot of us as adults, there comes a moment when we realize that if we want to be truly happy, we have to do something to end the background noise of our worried and stressed out minds. We can spend the rest of our lives longing for the so-called innocence of childhood, since childhood was that time when we could be still, and instead of feeling apprehension, we felt joy.

Again, there are always well-meaning people who will say that kids need to know the “truth” about the world. They think it’s in the kid’s interest to snap out of the dreaminess of childhood and get the alpha-beta overlord set up on his throne. But do we really do a child any good to tell them, for example, that the world is heating up so much that it may not survive? It is their generation that is going to have to come up with the solutions. Wouldn’t it be better for us to help them maintain continued access to their higher brain functioning where their wiser visions are informed by the soul rather, than having them develop into people whose impulse to take action is limited by a mind full of reasons to be afraid?

We instinctively protect our children from physical danger, so it follows that we would want to protect them from mental danger as well. This means preventing — as best we can — descriptions and images of violence, cruelty or disaster from intruding into the safe haven of our homes. We can decide what things are discussed in the presence of our kids. We can turn off the electronically generated noise when it’s not what we want them to hear.

There is a whole discussion we could have about the impact of too much negative information coming at us from all directions. What was considered indecent when I was a kid is now put out there in all its graphic detail on the television, in movies and the print and social media. There is a cost to this continual exposure to injustice and disaster to us, not just to our children.

But even though this kind of callous noise surrounds us in pixels and bytes, it is up to us to be the champions for the happy childhood that our children deserve.  When the proverbial window bursts open to the howling winds outside, we run to close it shut. We reassure them that they are safe until the thunder dies down. What I am suggesting is that we extend this natural reflex to include keeping the brutal face of the world out of the window, as well.

We can trust our innate knowing if we will remember to look deeper.

What do we do when our children are exposed to the “bad stuff” that happens? Fortunately, by design, we have an excellent tool already on hand for helping our children. It is our intuition. When we remember to pay attention to it, intuition will remind us at warp speed what it felt like to be a little person confronted with scary, confusing information. It will clue us in to the fears that our child might not be able to express. It’s a good skill to practice — that of looking deeply at our children until we can understand how things feel to them. Doing so keeps the focus off our own reactions, and on their emotional needs — something that is important when they are looking to us for signs of whether it is safe to stop being scared.

Young children feel their way to new understanding. It will help us guide them there if we can remember in that split second before we speak, that their software is still being installed. Instead of offering detailed explanations or political analysis in the attempt to help them comprehend troubling information, we do better to speak to their feelings and lead them home from the darkening wood. It is a matter of respect.

An Example of What a Child Hears

You know this saying since it’s pretty much a parenting cliché used to cajole children to eat their vegetables: “There are starving children in Africa. You should be grateful that you have this food to eat.”

I have never understood the logic that leads people to believe that mentioning such tragic information could motivate anyone to eat, let alone to develop a sudden appreciation for asparagus or rhubarb. If there are hungry children then there is a serious situation that should be fixed, right? How could begrudgingly eating the last bites alleviate trouble of that magnitude?

The statement is meant to imply that the kids who are refusing the last bit of zucchini casserole are supposed to feel lucky. But if aside the frustration of the dinner table, we are trying to raise compassionate human beings, it is not the best tactic to suggest to them that they be relieved that misfortune happens to other people.

Do we want their awareness to stop at feeling happy that they got skipped over when calamity was being dished out? Are we suggesting that the suffering of those other children is not important? Or is it possible that they might interpret it that we want them to be afraid that if they forget to eat, they will starve like the African children who can’t eat? It is a confusing piece of information at the best.

Let me share my own experience at 3 years old when I first heard about the frightening situation faced by those hungry kids. It was a dinner guest who broke the news about their situation and told me that they lived in Africa. And though I searched the faces of my parents, no further details were offered. I froze in my chair, feet dangling above the floor. My mind raced to imagine children, maybe as many as 10, who were without food in a place that was probably so far away that it was beyond the city where my grandma lived!

How did it happen that they had no food in their house? Where were their parents? Were they going to die? It was very upsetting to consider their plight, the circumstances of which were beyond my ability to imagine.

I did not feel like eating.

I can still remember the sense of urgency I felt the next morning as I stood in my pajamas at our cupboard, searching for relief supplies. I took the bag of my favorite cookies over to my mom who was cooking breakfast. “We have to take these to them, the children.”

What my mother did next was inspired by pure mothering genius, and I will always be grateful to her for her insight. She looked at me, understood, and said, “Okay, good idea.”

We got into the family station wagon, the humanitarian aid cookies on my lap, and drove to our church. We found Father John who was wearing his priest-collar, so I knew he was still on the job even though it was not Sunday.

My mom explained to him on my behalf that we needed his help to get the cookies to the children who were starving in Africa. I searched his face to see if I could trust him with this urgent mission. Without missing a beat, he said that he would do that right away.

“Please, it’s very important,” I told him. I handed the bag of cookies up to him. We got in the car as he pointed to the cookies and waved goodbye. We drove back to our house in silence passing through neighborhoods of children on bikes who seemed to my searching eyes to be well-enough fed.


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Dynamic of Disappearing Dads with Meryn Callander

Our experiences are what make each of us who we are. We are all unique. While many of us may go through the same experiences as another, no two people process each event in our lives the very same way. Some people come away from a challenge in their lives empowered to help others.

About the Interviewer: Rita Brhel, CLC, API Leader, is the Publications Coordinator and Managing Editor for Attachment Parenting International (API). She lives at the edge of Fairfield, Nebraska, USA, with her husband and their 3 children, on a sustainable farm. Rita is also a freelance writer and a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.

merynMeryn Callander of Victoria, Australia, did just this. She began her career in social work in Australia before heading to Europe and then the United States, where she met John Travis, MD, known as the father of wellness. She and John joined forces furthering the wellness movement. Then, in 1993, Meryn became a mother — an experience that gave her a whole new perspective on wellness in how profoundly childhood impacts the well-being of adults.

d62506_8a97ae9409fd46be9bccc075066bf0ba.jpg_srb_p_423_505_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srbIn 2012, Meryn wrote Why Dads Leave: Insights and Resources for When Partners Become Parents, with contributions from John. The book grew out of Meryn and Travis’s parenting journeys, compelling them to identify and explore the dynamics underlying the epidemic of men disappearing from their roles as fathers — whether physically or emotionally — soon after the birth of a child, and to provide tools to keep couples growing together rather than apart as new parents.

I found the book to be one of the most eye-opening resources to be created for new parents, particularly with the focus on the “dynamic of disappearing dads,” which I explore in this interview with Meryn.

API: Thank you, Meryn, for your time. Please begin by sharing your background in the wellness movement.

MERYN: Well, it began in 1978. I was living in Australia and read of John Travis, “father of wellness.”  He was talking about health being more than physical — that there were also emotional-mental and spiritual dimensions, and our “wellness” was, in large, our own responsibility.

I was a social worker and working with children in crisis at the time, and I took to the term “wellness,” which at that time was virtually unheard of. I felt like I was applying Band-aids, never addressing the real issues that led these children into crisis — and could lead them out. This idea of personal responsibility seemed to be taking the “reality therapy” approach we were using with the children at the time, a layer deeper. So I decided to learn more about this thing called wellness.

I traveled to the [United] States to attend a residential seminar with John at the Wellness Resource Center in California [USA]. That led to marriage that spanned over 30 years and professional partnership. Over the years, we moved our focus of wellness beyond the personal, to look at what was asked of us in developing authentic and collaborative connections with others.

We were always surprised seeing the struggles even people involved in the psychological and medical fields who joined our network, had in developing intimate and trusting relationships. Ultimately, that led us to Jean Liedloff’s Continuum Concept. Now we saw that the core of wellness was in how we raised our young!

Having focused for years on adult wellness, this discovery felt like a huge break-though. We saw that the wellness of an individual — of families and the planet — is inseparable from the way we raise our children.

API: Your book, Why Dads Leave, is amazing. How you were introduced to advocating for emotional support of new parents, particularly fathers?

MERYN: At 40 years of age, I wanted a baby — a continuum baby, of course. Now we took up the cause of what we soon discovered was known as Attachment Parenting. I began the Wellspring Guide, a quarterly publication featuring in-depth synopses of parenting books.

In 1993, our daughter Siena was born at our home in the hinterland of Mendocino County [California, USA]. In 1999, along with 11 other experts in the field of birth and child development, John and I cofounded the Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children — a wonderful experience, a “new family” and another story.

Well, we had a planned conception, a carefully tended pregnancy and home birth. We thought we were so prepared for this adventure in parenting. Initially it was incredible and so exciting! We were both so much in love with this little being and the joy she brought into our life.

As the months went on, John got increasingly depressed. He had struggled on and off with depression all his life, but now it was happening more and more often. I oscillated between being sad and disappointed, and being angry at his withdrawing from us. When he wasn’t depressed, he was great — unwavering of his support of attachment practices, and a loving and playful dad to Siena. But it was so hard when he was depressed. And he was going longer and deeper into this pattern of depression and withdrawal.

It was some years before Jack began to understand what was happening and wrote “Why Men Leave,” a 2004 magazine article that was published in the United States and Australia. It generated such a strong reader response that I felt compelled to dive wider and deeper into the dynamics underlying our experience — and eventually to write Why Dads Leave [the book].

Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I began writing. I discovered layer upon layer of factors — personal, interpersonal, political and cultural — driving what we had termed Male Post Partum Syndrome (MPAS) and the dynamic of disappearing dads.

API: Please explain male post partum syndrome and the dynamic of disappearing dads?

MERYN: As your readers well know, a secure mother-infant bond is fundamental to a child’s well-being. Discoveries in the field of neurobiology confirm that a secure mother-infant bond depends on many factors:

  • A natural birth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Near-constant physical contact through carrying infants in-arms or in slings
  • Cosleeping
  • The recognition that babies are social beings who thrive on loving connections.

Of course this is what Liedloff discovered and many indigenous cultures have always known.

Now put this together with the fact that most everyone in the Western world born since the 1930s has been subjected to modern child-rearing practices that interfere with secure attachment:

  • High-intervention birth
  • Artificial baby food
  • Pushed about in wheeled carriers rather than carried on the body in slings
  • Left to “cry it out”
  • Left to sleep alone.

Now here is the piece of the puzzle that many people practicing — and advocating — Attachment Parenting are not aware of. These little boys grow up to be men looking for the mommy they never connected with. Time comes they believe they have found her, marry her and everything’s looking fine — until baby comes along. Suddenly baby takes center stage, consuming enormous amounts of the mother’s time and energy. He finds his needs are now largely ignored. Feeling rejected he is likely to withdraw, get resentful, act out, or turn to substance or process addictions to cope with the pain. The primal fears of abandonment that are wired into his brain as a result of his own unmet infancy needs have been restimulated — big time.

Meanwhile his partner may be blossoming, her needs being met like never before through her physical and emotional connection with their baby. A man can never experience the intimacy born of carrying a baby in the womb or breastfeeding. And in the early months, it can be hard for him to accept the fact that baby is more interested in mom, than in him — no matter how hard he “tries.”

She has no idea what is going on with her man, and no time to tend to him — especially as he is “acting out” in whatever way he may be doing that. Ironically, the better the mother is able to nurture her child, the more likely he will re-experience his childhood wounding because he sees even more of what he didn’t get.

MPAS is now at center stage, with neither partner having a clue what is going on. It’s not too difficult to understand then, why a man will leave, disappear — either physically or emotionally.

Much of what is understood in Attachment Parenting circles with respect to “attachment” is the vital importance of infants and children for connection. What is generally not understood is — as [John] Bowlby, the father of Attachment Theory recognized — the equally primal need of adults for connection. Neurobiology confirms it feels literally devastating on a core level to have that connection threatened.

Read about how children form secondary attachments — such as to the father — in this API article, written by Bowlby’s son.

API: How widespread is this?

MERYN: Many people are surprised to learn that in the United States, an estimated 14% of men suffer postpartum depression. During the 3- to 6-month postpartum period, the rate increases to 26%.

Factors researchers have identified as leading to male postpartum depression include dad feeling burdened at the prospect of caring for a child, burdened with the financial responsibility and missing — or essentially feeling abandoned by — their wives.

Of course, it’s the latter point that is core to MPAS. And there may be plenty for a new dad to feel rejected, abandoned or jealous about. On top of the attention and affection baby gets — that he formerly got — there’s the attention his partner is getting as the new mom, and the baby’s having near exclusive rights to his wife’s breasts.

At the same time they are feeling deprived of quality time — or any time — with their partner, most new dads at some time feel scared. Frightened that they feel helpless, frustrated even angry when the baby won’t stop crying. Frightened they’re going to repeat the mistakes made by their own father. Sleep deprived, they can’t think straight.

Of course, the new mother faces many of these issues, too, but men — especially at this time — are expected to “be strong.” On top of that, men are expected to know what to do.

None of this is to say it’s harder for dads than for moms, but that it’s hard for dads, too.

Depressed, men are likely to be irritable and aggressive. And when dads appear this way, most women will turn their focus even more toward their child. Many will be feeling they have “another baby” to take care of.

While some people argue male postpartum depression is due to the father’s feeling displaced — a “needy, greedy child” — what is not factored into the “needy, greedy” diagnosis is the attachment perspective that recognizes that our need for connection, as adults as well as children, is primal.

As a man feels himself to be not only incompetent and superfluous but also rejected and abandoned, he distances himself from home and family. It’s not that he doesn’t care, but the practicalities of “being there” are just too difficult. Many give up and leave — emotionally, if not physically.

Read this API blog post from a father about the importance — and challenge — of giving his children presence.

API: What can we do about this?

MERYN: This is a question that needs to be addressed on many levels, including and beyond the immediate family. There are a multitude of entry points to addressing MPAS.

For example, researchers have identified depression as often being the result of a dad being disabled as an involved parent, with the most depressed dads having wives who are “over-involved” with their baby. And while a growing number of men want to be more involved in caring for their children, mothers often unwittingly discourage their partner’s involvement. I found this fascinating, and I have seen it again and again, now that I am aware of it.

Men who feel supported by their wives in finding their own way of doing things are less prone to depression and develop a strong connection with their infants. We tend to overlook the fact that competency of fathering, as with mothering, is learned through the day-to-day, hands-on care of a child. This is perhaps truer today than every before, as so many of us have had very little to do with caring for the very young — unlike a generation or two ago. Yet fathers typically spend almost no time alone with their babies — not because they don’t want to, but because it’s virtually impossible for a working dad, as most dads are.

Dads need to be encouraged and supported in being key players in pregnancy and birth, and their different styles but equally significant roles as parents needs to be acknowledged — by their partners but also by pre-and perinatal providers, preschools [and other segments of society].

Read more about the father’s role in newborn parenting in this API article.

API: Can you speak a more about what you mean by multiple entry points?

MERYN: There is so much we can do. It does not need be said that being parents today is a hugely demanding endeavor that, more often than not, puts unanticipated stresses on a marriage. The more prepared a couple can be, the smoother and more joyful the transition can be.

Read about how API Leader Thiago Queiroz transitioned into his role as a new father in this API blog post, and this followup post.

Firstly, being informed about the dynamic is in itself huge. Recognize that having a baby almost inevitably puts a couple’s relationship at risk. No one can assume, “It won’t happen to us.” I would surely have been guilty of believing that.

It’s very important to recognize that fathers, too, have very legitimate and distinct concerns and needs that need to be addressed at pregnancy, birth and postpartum.

Read a father’s perspective of being his wife’s breastfeeding coach in this API article.

Recognize becoming a parent as an opportunity to heal the wounds of your own childhood. While this may be a lifelong journey, it begins with awareness and small steps. So ideally prior to conception, parents can reflect on their our own birth and childhood to identify unresolved issues that may be re-stimulated. While parents pore over books and DVDs, and attend parenting classes to learn how to care for their child, this crucial area is rarely addressed.

Read fellow Australia native Jessica Talbot’s story of healing her childhood wounds in this API article.

Recognize the significance of Attachment Theory to adult love. Recognize that adults crave and thrive on connection just as infants and children do. Reframe dad’s selfishness or immature neediness as re-stimulated unmet childhood needs for connection. And don’t rely on each other exclusively to meet those needs.

Listen to a free audio recording of this API interview with Harville Hendrix, founder of Imago Relationship Therapy — a followup of API’s Healing Childhood Wounds publication

Prepare for the postpartum period prior to the birth of a baby. Organize support — physical and emotional. Don’t try to go it alone, as we initially did.

Promote an awareness of the need for local community as well as social, economic and political policies and practices that support families — and dads. In Norway, promoting men’s early involvement with infants and children is seen as a potential tool for reducing domestic and other violence.

API: Thank you so much, Meryn, for your insights. Is there anything else you’d like share?

MERYN: People would often meet us and say, “Oh, so this is the continuum baby!” I soon learned that was so untrue that I wrote an article about it! Siena was not a continuum baby, and we could not expect to be “continuum parents.” We do not live in a continuum culture. We do not have “continuum role models.” We don’t have the village, the many hands and other supports found in those indigenous cultures. In fact, we live in a culture that diametrically opposes continuum practices — a culture that offers very little support to cooperative and collaborative living, to intimacy or to families.

Does this mean we shouldn’t even try? No! In fact I believe our well-being as a species in is large dependent on it.

An API Support Group can be a vital local resource for Attachment Parenting families looking for their support “village.”

Siena’s needs as an infant and young child were met to a degree that is unusual in this culture. And so were my needs, as a mother. However, she was also subject to our stresses and the limitations — physical, emotional and spiritual — we encountered in the absence of the village. That said, I could never conceive of parenting a child in any other way.

What I find heartening is that there are so many more resources available to parents today than a decade or two ago. At the time we purchased a baby sling, we had never as much as seen one — far less anyone wearing one. We got so many looks and comments wearing those slings. And there were virtually no continuum or Attachment Parenting groups. We formed our own in our small rural community, and it was a lifesaver. Today, you can find a multitude of blogs, Facebook groups and local [in-person] groups forming. Many of these supports today are explicitly for dads.

Unfortunately, few know about MPAS.

I imagine that many of your readers begin Attachment Parenting like we did, so full of enthusiasm. And that’s wonderful. But this needs to be tempered with the realities that we are not continuum children. We do not live in a continuum culture. I see so many parents beating
themselves up, because they [feel they] are not good enough moms or dads. I would like them not to be so hard on themselves. It’s not good for them, nor for their children. Self-acceptance and compassion for themselves in this time of huge transition is to the good of all — without exception.

I believe that everyone who is practicing Attachment Parenting to whatever degree they can, is making a difference. It’s a huge shift from the way past generations were raised — and we are really paving the way for our children, and the generations to come.

Suppressing our feelings and engaging in blame-games and power struggles take a huge toll on our energies. That said, I strongly urge couples who find they are floundering to get support — sooner rather than later. Don’t try to do this alone. Seek the support of a wise and seasoned person, a counselor or therapist.

With a whole-hearted commitment to their partnership and family, to a strong focus on working as a team, and on appreciating and supporting each other in loving and learning, a tremendous amount of energy is generated that serves both the individuals, the marriage — and the children.


ACEs Too High with Jane Stevens

Journalists have a unique position to be able to see an issue from all sides. We are natural investigators, posing questions that not everyone dares — or even considers — asking, and seeking as far, as long, as deep and as wide as necessary to find the answers.

About the Interviewer: Rita Brhel, CLC, API Leader, is the Publications Coordinator and Managing Editor for Attachment Parenting International. She lives at the edge of Fairfield, Nebraska, USA, with her husband and their 3 children, on a sustainable farm. Rita is also a freelance writer and a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.

jane stevensAs part of her long-time health journalism career, Jane Stevens of Sacramento, California, USA, has worked to bring to public light the monumental impact of childhood adversity research through her writing at ACES Too High. Her subsequent founding of the ACEs Connection Network translate the scientific field into real-life application.

I am grateful to be able to share this interview with Jane — for all of us to learn about the importance of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) not only for individual well-being but for families, communities, societies and even the world. My hope is that we all can realize the critical need for parents to heal from their childhood emotional wounds in order to take care not to pass them along, unconditionally, to our children.

API: Jane, let’s begin by learning about ACEs.

JANE: ACEs are adverse childhood experiences. ACEs usually refers to the 10 types of childhood adversity that were measured in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Those 10 are:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Emotional abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. A family member who’s an alcoholic or addicted to other drugs
  7. A family member diagnosed with a mental illness
  8. Witnessing a mother being abused
  9. A family member in prison
  10. Loss of a parent through separation or divorce.

That doesn’t mean that there are no other types of childhood trauma. There are, of course: living in a war zone, witnessing a sibling being abused, witnessing violence outside the home, and others. It’s just that in the ACE Study, only 10 were measured.

API: Are ACEs and epigenetics related?

JANE: Epigenetics shows that genes can be turned on and off by a person’s social and emotional environment. So, if a person’s environment is filled with trauma that causes toxic stress over a long period of time, then not only can that person’s genes be altered so that they have hair-trigger response to trauma and have great difficulty recovering from trauma, but they can pass those genes on to their children and grandchildren.

API: Through ACES Too High, readers are able to take a quiz to learn their ACE score. Why should people be aware of their own ACEs, rather than leave this in the research realm?

JANE: Many people who learn about the ACE Study and who calculate their own ACE score say they’re relieved, especially if they have a high ACE score. They say that their life finally makes sense.

They also understand that they’re not bad. They coped as best they could under dire circumstances. And knowing that they’re not bad people opens the opportunity for them to change their lives. It’s quite empowering information.

API: It’s apparent that ACEs can be a huge influence on individuals and their families. Can ACEs also affect communities?

JANE: Communities whose residents have high ACE scores and few resilience factors are difficult places to live. Essentially, the community is in a state of constant and chronic traumatic stress. This means that it’s difficult for people to thrive, or to raise children who will thrive.

API: ACEs tends to be thought of most relevant to at-risk populations — people with a low socioeconomic status, family violence, addictions and so on — in the research and policy-making fields. What are your thoughts as to how relevant ACEs are to middle-class families?

JANE: Dr. Robert Anda, one of the founders of the ACE Study, has said that the middle class is the epidemiological reservoir for ACEs.

That means that if families where parents have 2 or 3 ACEs undergo more trauma — such as a Great Recession in which parents lose their jobs, or a natural disaster in which the family loses its home, or a personal tragedy — the children might end up with 3 or 4 ACEs. Without intervention or enough community resilience factors, those children can have a more difficult life — with increased risk of physical, mental or social problems, which in turn, can lead to higher ACE scores for their children.

The ACE Study showed that childhood adversity is extremely common in a mostly white, middle-class, college-educated community whose residents all have jobs and great health care — the 17,000 Kaiser Permanente members who participated in the ACE Study.

Subsequent data shows that just as many people in the middle class have ACES as those who are poor, but on average, the poor have higher ACE scores. ACEs are a problem everywhere. Focusing only on the poor fosters a “them-us” mentality, and it won’t do much to stem the epidemic of ACEs.

Read in this API article reviewing Duke University research on how, without intervention, early childhood ACEs can lead to later teen violence.

API: What can people do to reduce the impact of their ACEs?

JANE: The science of resilience shows that there’s quite a bit that an individual can do to regulate their response to trauma. This includes getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food, meditation, exercise, making and sustaining social connections, deep breathing and so on.

Less is known about what families, communities and systems can do to reduce the impact of ACEs, but there is a lot of work being done in the areas of trauma-informed care in social services, trauma-informed and resilience-building practices in schools, and evidence-based parenting. There’s even work being done in creating resilience-building physical environments in cities, such as understanding how green spaces can reduce people’s levels of depression.

Read about the role of attachment in healing infant depression in this API article.

API: That’s exciting! What first inspired your interest in ACEs?

JANE: In the 1980s, I began reporting on violence epidemiology when the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] declared violence to be an epidemic. That eventually led me to the ACE Study, which I began reporting about in 2005.

API: What made you decide to transition from traditional journalism to advocacy work?

JANE: I regard myself as a journalist, a modern digital journalist who founded and runs a niche news organization. Although I am an advocate for reducing violence, I don’t really regard that as advocacy.

My job is to inform and educate people about the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences, and how people, organizations, agencies and communities are using the research to develop practices to prevent childhood adversity and to change systems to stop traumatizing already traumatized people. I don’t advocate for any particular practice. My job is to explain the consequences of taking a particular action, or no action.

I also use distributed networking to create a network to connect people who are implementing or thinking about implementing practices based on ACE research.

Enjoy research? API’s online Journal of Attachment Parenting is a collection of abstracts related to Attachment Parenting.

API: You are referring to ACES Too High and ACES Connection.

JANE: ACEs is a type of social network known as a community of practice. Its nearly 2,500 members are implementing — or thinking about implementing — practices based on ACEs- and trauma-informed concepts. They are professionals, advocates, caretakers and people who have experienced ACEs and want to engage with others to prevent ACEs.

ACEs Too is a news and analysis site for the general public. It covers research about ACEs, the effects of toxic stress on children’s developing brains, and epigenetics, as well as how people, organizations and systems are implementing practices based on ACEs-, trauma-informed and resilience-building concepts.

I officially launched them in January 2012, because at that time there was no place where people could learn about how people, organizations, agencies and communities were implementing practices based on ACEs research. There also was no place where people could meet virtually to learn about each other’s activities and to connect with each other.

API: I had heard about your Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. Congratulations! How did you use the funds?

JANE: To grow ACEs Too High and ACEs Connection. Basically we now have the resources to do more stories, provide more resources and to help communities create groups on ACEs Connection.

Groups are at the heart of this distributed network, and ACEs Connection community managers can help cities and states that want to become trauma-informed/resilience-building communities establish and implement their goals by providing group members the information they need to do so. Community managers provide information, facilitate virtual and face-to-face interactions, and connect people with each other. This facilitation is especially important, because for a community to reduce its ACEs, people from different sectors — or silos — need to work together.

API: Thank you, Jane, for your time and insights. A final question: What are your long-term goals with ACEs Connection?

JANE: Marshall Ganz, a long-time activist and community organizer who’s now at Harvard Kennedy School, says that social movements must have stories, structures and strategies.

ACEs Too High is where most of the storytelling occurs. Stories provide narratives of a social movement. They express its values. People open their hearts to a story in a way they just don’t open their hearts to data. But, as Ganz points out, stories are a portal to data and abstract ideas. They bring people into social movements and motivate them to take action.

ACEs Connection provides structure. It uses distributed network technology to build communities of practice that foster and support tens of thousands of “small-l” leaders as they inspire a shift in the nation’s collective mental model. This new model recognizes that the roots of much of physical illness, most mental illness and nearly all interpersonal violence are found in Adverse Childhood Experiences that occur in families, communities and our educational, criminal justice, medical, mental health and social service systems.

Members of these communities of practice collaborate to craft a new definition of health and health care in response to ACEs and their consequences, a definition that replaces shame, blame and punishment with compassion, nurturing and prevention. These communities of practice comprise participants who work together across silos and across geographies, so that health becomes a part of every endeavor and building resilience becomes part of the fabric of everyday living.

Read in this API article about how Attachment Parenting works to be part of the prevention of ACEs.

Once people learn about the consequences of ACEs, the effects of toxic stress and that trauma-informed practices and building resilience can create healthy individuals, families, communities and systems, they can never look at a homeless person without seeing an abused child. They can never look at a young man in juvenile detention without wondering why the schools he attended did not intervene in his journey from the classroom to prison. They can never look at communities without wondering if they are implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices. And if they are not, they begin asking: “How can we start?


Attachment Parenting International provides local API Support Groups. Find your local group today!


Conscious Living with Lisa Reagan

I am always excited to meet with fellow journalists who, like me, were so moved by their experience as a parent — and in supporting other parents — that they transformed their great talents and dedication to truth into a passion of uncovering the story of Attachment Parenting.

About the Interviewer: Rita Brhel, CLC, API Leader, is the Publications Coordinator and Managing Editor for Attachment Parenting International (API). She lives at the edge of Fairfield, Nebraska, USA, with her husband and their 3 children, on a sustainable farm. Rita is also a freelance writer and a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor.

lisa reaganAmong the newest members of API’s Resource Advisory Council, Lisa Reagan of Toano, Virginia, USA, is one such journalist. She has made amazing strides during the last 17 years to further the AP movement through her nonprofit activism as Executive Editor of Kindred Media and Community, her cofounding of Families for Conscious Living (FCL), and her latest work with birth psychology through the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health.

I am thrilled to be able to share this interview with Lisa — for you to be able to get to know her and the amazing person she is!

API: I love getting to know people and learning about how they came to be where they are at in their life. Lisa, you have so much going on and you have so much influence. I want to know how that came to be and what inspired you?

LISA: My path of advocacy for conscious parenting began with the birth of my son in 1997. I had a highly medicalized birth, and did not know about natural birth or Attachment Parenting.  But a woman I met in a Lamaze class told me about a support group that was meeting in a park that talked about the sorts of topics found in Mothering magazine, which I loved and read throughout my pregnancy. This group also found resources for healthy living, like trucking in organic food through co-ops and finding midwives — they were illegal — and the rare books on compassionate parenting.

Learn the story of Mothering magazine through this API interview with former editor Peggy O’Mara.

I remember passing around [API Advisory Board member] Dr. [William] Sears’ book [The Baby Book] and discussing it together.  All of his insights resonated with what our hearts as mothers wanted. That, and it just seemed like the most common sense thing in the world: to pick up your crying baby, eat healthy food and discover ways to contribute to a healthy planet for our families.

Listen to Dr. William Sears in this API teleseminar, “Needs vs Wants: How to fulfill a child’s needs, yet discern his wants in a way that preserves healthy attachment.”

So my conscious parenting adventure began with this invitation to attend the support group of an underground homebirth community. Hundreds of families around the state belonged to it, as it was the group’s midwife that admonished the parents to rely on each other. She understood that parents needed supportive community to make counter-culture wellness choices.

API: Yes, that’s what Attachment Parenting International (API) is all about — parent-to-parent support, preferably face-to-face with our local API Support Groups and API Leaders.

LISA: API families are very lucky to be able to easily find each other today on the Internet! I cannot say enough about the necessity to gather in person, though. There are non-verbal and even quantum fields of wisdom that are exchanged when we simply gather together. Really.

During my new motherhood, it wasn’t just book information we craved. We discovered we needed to share the practical information from our personal experiences. If one of us had a colicky child and figured out something that works, we needed to share it with our group. We kept a list of “Mentoring Moms,” so we would know who to refer to for allergies, breastfeeding challenges and so on. This is a practical reason for getting together in community, in-personal support and sharing.

It took a while for reality to sink in, but once I understood our pursuit of wellness was not culturally supported, I was depressed. Most activists are in the beginning. So, I had to overcome a lot of frustration and confusion. Today, we know about birth psychology and how womb ecology becomes world ecology. The insights into the holistic wellness paradigm are becoming more clear, scientifically, every day.

Back then, it was the very early days of the Internet. We did not just pop on and read 100 mommy blogs about people’s experiences with conscious parenting. We also lived in an oppressive part of the United States, where parents could still be jailed or their children taken away for homeschooling or homebirthing.

I didn’t find out for years that my confusion and angst emanated from what Joseph Chilton Pearce [author of Magical Child] called the “bio-cultural conflict.”  My biological imperatives to care for my child — responsive parenting, breastfeeding, cosleeping — were at odds with cultural imperative to conform to industrial food, education and child-raising methods, which turned out to be brain-damaging.

Review research about how popular child-rearing techniques can hinder brain development, from API Board of Directors member Darcia Narvaez, psychology professor at Notre Dame University.

This was only 17 years ago.  I mean, really, it is unreal how in 17 years, things have taken off — and in a good way.

But in 1999, the group’s midwife was literally run out of the state, and the group fell apart — this tragedy was documented in the book Pushing for Midwives: Homebirth Mothers and the Reproductive Rights Movement by sociologist Crista Craven. The people who were part of this underground homebirth movement knew her and loved her. I did not know her, so I said I need to keep this going. I remember driving to the park one day and nobody was there, because everybody that had been a part of this — and I mean dozens of families would show up for these meetings — they were so devastated by losing the heart of their organization that they did not want to go forward. I remember looking at the empty picnic tables and just sitting down and crying.

I needed my community biologically, neurologically, emotionally, spiritually on every level. I had to have this community. I asked a couple of people to please just stay with me as I wanted to transition what they were doing into daylight. I wanted to do more workshops and educational programs and conferences, and I wanted to work with universities.

We had excellent relationships with the Women Studies departments at a couple of universities that worked with us to have birth options conferences as midwifery was illegal in Virginia, USA. FCL produced the first performance of the play “Birth” by Karen Brody in 2005 in celebration of the eventual legalization of midwifery in Virginia. One university’s science research society worked with us on holding a conference on the mosquito spraying, which was so prevalent in our area. So we found allies right away in a lot of mainstream places that supported our ideas.

API: When you refer to mainstream, you mean that compassionate parenting — Attachment Parenting — was seen as alternative?

LISA: Yes. People like to label and stereotype.  But the “Oh, you guys are crunchy, granola hippies” label — we were not. Most of us weren’t at all. There were some people who were into that as a lifestyle, but for the most part, it was just regular parents who were questioning and weren’t even aware of what they were questioning — or pioneering — at the time.

So my path as a newborn activist led me to explore this very, very core piece of, “Why am I not supported as a mother? Why can’t I find what I need? Why is this so hard?” I couldn’t even name “it” for a long while because I was trying to grasp the meta-view of an emerging holistic wellness paradigm. Our worldviews — our stories — are the context of our lives, within us and all around us, but often seem invisible to us. Having my community gave me confidence to trust myself and my intuition to ask questions. It was also Joseph Chilton Pearce, who lived in Virginia and spoke to our group, who pointed the way for my investigation into human consciousness, the connections between how we treat children and how they grow up to treat each other and the world.

Eventually, I found the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in California, USA, who had been studying the issue of transforming human consciousness for 40 years. Their scientific research and reports helped to form questions that people had not asked before, and are still forming. IONS was founded by the sixth man to walk on the moon, Edgar Mitchell, who experienced a profound shift in his own consciousness while in space. IONS’ current president, Cassandra Vieten, PhD, wrote the book Mindful Motherhood. Think about that for a minute: astronauts and mindful mothering.

blue marble from lisa reaganSome researchers believe the current consciousness shift towards holism began the moment NASA astronauts sent photos of the Earth to us. For the first time — looking at this famous photo called “the
Blue Marble” — we started to think about how we are living on this finite planet. Before this photo and its shocking revelation of our smallness in the vast universe, we were acting like our resources — both people and planetary — are disposable, like we can just use it all up and throw it away, pile up the trash, pollute our water and it will be okay. The Blue Marble revelation inspired the celebration of the first Earth Day, and that was in 1970.

RITA: Yes, recognizing our place in the universe.

LISA: A fairly new concept, especially applied to children.

Twenty-eight years later, I found myself sitting in a park with mothers and fathers 7 miles from NASA Langley Research Center exploring the possibilities of “conscious family living” as a way to bring sustainability and wellness to ourselves, our children, communities and planet.  What we know now — and new science emerges every day to deepen this understanding — is that all of life is connected and all of life is conscious at some level.

Attachment science shows the way to sustainability through creating connected children who grow into connected adults. API, and especially [API Cofounders] Lysa Parker and Barbara Nicholson’s book Attached at the Heart, provide the perfect road map for parents who crave connection to their children. I am very proud to have known them from the beginning of my journey and very honored to work with API’s Resource Advisory Council.

Learn how Attachment Parenting dovetails with sustainability in this API article by Lysa Parker.

RITA: And API is grateful to have you as part of the team to further the Attachment Parenting movement and support families! What happened next?

LISA: Following Earth Day, an Eco-Green-Sustainability movement was born. But what we don’t appreciate now and we need to appreciate is that this is a consciousness-raising movement.

Nobody knows what they are doing. I asked Pearce in his home in 2013 to help me with the language to describe what is happening and he said there are many great minds in the world who are struggling with this limitation of language. This is a new story, so there will need to be new language, and that will come out of our experiences of living into and being this new story.

So a couple of years after that first Earth Day, you have [API Advisory Board member] Peggy O’Mara pioneer Mothering magazine. She told me she was impacted by both the Vietnam War and this return to the land and sustainability movement. Peggy is a consciousness-raising pioneer. Peggy took Mothering and connected dots between how we raise children impacts how we treat the world.

Listen to Peggy O’Mara’s words of wisdom through this API teleseminar, “Getting Real with Ourselves — and Our Kids.”

When I was with my FCL group — and this was 20 years after Peggy created Mothering — and we started reading Mothering magazine together, I remember thinking, ‘I have to talk to Peggy O’Mara. I just need to.’ As a journalist, I wanted to write for her. I wanted to do whatever I can do.  I still couldn’t intellectually articulate what was happening — that I was participating in a consciousness-raising movement — but my heart, gut and DNA had to be a part of Mothering‘s vision for families. I became the East Coast Contributing Editor for Mothering.

It is challenging, even today,  to inspire people to consider this 40,000-foot view, the understanding of conscious parenting as a consciousness-raising movement with far-reaching consequences for our human family.  Some people I talk with say, “Oh, I can’t go there. I don’t even understand what you are saying.” And some days, I can’t go there and have no idea what I’m talking about, ha.

But when we have context for what is happening within us and around us, when we have some kind of historical context, cultural context, even our own personal context, it is the context — the Big Picture — that can help us to shake off despondency and move toward empowerment and joy. And early on, this is what I saw in myself, a new mother who was unaware that my conscious choices for connection — with myself, my child, my husband, my community and planet — mattered.

API: I think that can be difficult for some people to do, to see themselves in that way. It takes a different way of thinking.

LISA:  Yes, it does.  But the effort to shift our awareness is worth it.  When AP families are gathering, they are addressing this need for culture to reform by being the change that is needed. This is consciousness-raising, and when we have this big of a picture and then we see where we are in it, it becomes very exciting and naturally empowering. In Families for Conscious Living, even though we did not know what the heck we were doing — we were definitely feeling around in the dark — we wanted to talk about everything, from attachment science to Pearce to trucking in organic food through co-ops.

Originally, we were Families for Natural Living, but eventually we realized the word “natural” was all over products in Wal-Mart and had lost its intention — again, the need for considering new language. So the word “conscious” was adopted to reflect our understanding that our inner world created our outer world, and it is this early foundation in pregnancy, birth and attachment science that set us up for relationships with ourselves, others and life — the Blue Marble.

API: Attachment Parenting (AP) allows parents the freedom to start questioning everything, to open up their way of thinking and doing, to explore what they didn’t know could be explored before. API Support Groups can be very empowering experiences for parents. So when did you cofound FCL?

LISA: Yes, with AP groups, once you start questioning — once you recognize it is going to be healthier for your family to make counter culture choices — you can get on a roll, ha.

unnamedFamilies for Conscious Living, the name and the organization, came out of the underground homebirth community. The underground homebirth community was around in the mid-1990s, and then the formalized process of becoming a nonprofit was 1998.

API: And what kind of topics did you cover in your FCL groups?

LISA: We said, “Talk about whatever you want to talk about, but we are here is to try to understand and support each other in wellness. We don’t want to define what that is, because we think that’s the industrial model: the prescriptive, ‘let me tell you how to do this’ kind of way.”

API: As with API, we ultimately want to lead parents back to themselves, to getting in touch and listening to their instincts of how to relate to their children and to themselves. We want to offer guidelines of how to do that, but empowering ourselves means being confident in trusting our instincts.

LISA: We wanted to explore it all, but together. So FCL groups were about that, exploring this wellness paradigm, the holistic paradigm, attachment science, breastfeeding, childbirth, education, our own
intuitions and, even back then, the neuroscience that is currently exploding.

What is happening now is the gap between attachment science, epigenetics, neuroscience and sustainability is closing. Leading the way has been the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH) whose founders began presenting birth psychology to an unreceptive academia and public 35 years ago.

Kindred’s slogan used to be “Because Sustainability Begins With Conception,” but we took that phrase down when the magazine came to the United States as an FCL alternative media initiative from Australia, as Americans were nowhere near being able to digest that meta-view. But now, just 5 years later, there is a new documentary, “In Utero,” featuring APPPAH’s founder, Thomas Verny, MD, who presents the case, with international experts, in the film for how womb ecology becomes world ecology.

Kathleen and Stephen Gyllenhaal — yes they are parents, father and step mother, of [actor] Jake Gyllenhaal and [actress] Maggie Gyllenhaal — have created this documentary, and I have previewed it.  This film is going to be an impactful consciousness-raising tool for activists and professionals. It beautifully connects the dots between
conception, pregnancy, the mother’s emotional wellness, the lack or presence of support during gestation for mother and child, and how we’re set up for connection before our births. It is a stunning work, and the DVD cover shows a green version of the Blue Marble photo with a baby inside.

So birth psychology shows that human consciousness begins at the beginning. This a huge shift, one that will take another 35 years to be reflected in our culture, even though I hope this isn’t true.

The holistic worldview that is emerging now understands there is no separation of our lives into cubicles, categories, subjects or tidy compartments, as the industrial worldview and mainstream education has trained us to believe. We’re now witnessing the emergence of science that confirms life is all connected and conscious. It is a continuum. Our personal choices effect the whole.

API: I can see why — it being a continuum — this would be so, why it would take 40 years to get to a place where we can look back and understand what has been happening and how families and parenting fit in. What happened to FCL’s groups?

LISA: In the end, we had 80 community groups in the United States and England, but I couldn’t get the funding or staff that I needed to run it and was burning out trying to keep it going. In the late 2000s, I started volunteering for Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, which is run by the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA). Over the course of a few years of volunteering, what we realized that they have a model in place for helping parents form support groups. The ICPA version of FCL allowed the chiropractor be the sponsor of the group, which took the burden off of the parent to form and facilitate a support group.

It became obvious that I could take the gathering guide that I had written for the Families for Conscious Living groups and translate it into a very abbreviated version for the chiropractors and parents to use to create these groups. So we did that in 2009, and by the time I left Pathways two years ago, they had more than 300 groups internationally.

It is a big international organization with professional dues supporting their programs. That model is a great model. It does have some drawbacks in that not all parents are supportive of chiropractic or they don’t want to feel that they are pressured into chiropractic care by going into a chiropractor’s office, but there were plenty of people who do get it and love it, and it was a very turnkey program to be able to walk in and have this piece.

Over the years of experimenting with what works for parent support groups, I would call and talk to Barbara and Lysa and say, “How are you doing this?” We would share notes, knowing that Attachment Parenting International is unique in their approach and solid resources.

I love Lysa and Barbara. I absolutely love them. They are just so grounded. They are very grounded and intelligent people. I am very grateful to them for still being here 21 years later. I am just so glad they were able to weather all of the early years as an organization, because their role in his conscious parenting movement is historical and foundation for what comes next.

API: I love that.

LISA: It’s huge. It’s as big as it gets.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this big picture stuff when I had a child. I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a mom. I loved my baby, and I loved my husband and I was so grateful that I got to delay having a child until I could stay home.

But I, like many parents, began to question and felt there was something not right about a culture that did not support family wellness — going back to what Pearce calls the bio-cultural conflict, meaning we are torn between our biological imperatives to make wellness choices for our children, and our cultural imperatives for approval and acceptance.

API: Becoming a parent can be so transformative. How many children do you have?

LISA: I just have the one and he’s 17 now. I was telling some of my friends who would understand what am I saying without any kind of cultural mommy judgment — people who understand attachment and know me — and I said, “You know what? I feel like, it’s over — in a good way, though. I kind of feel like, ‘Oh my gosh, that mommy phase is over, and I have a young man in front of me.'”

Pearce says you know you’ve done your job when they walk away and don’t look back. And when he [my son] does that to me now as a teenager, I am thrilled. I am, like, great!

I know when you have little ones, it is hard to imagine that this moment will come, but I told some of my friends that, and they said, “You know, you went through your developmental milestones as a mother, too.” So I grew up as well.

API: What a good way to say it.

LISA: And they’re right. Because of following the attachment model, I got my needs met to mother him, and there is nothing hanging on now. I did it. I met my needs to be his mother and I met his needs, and it’s a completed thing now.

It is kind of a dangerous thing to say in our judgmental culture where people want to bash the heck out of moms for any reason at all, like, “Oh, aren’t I a neurotic clingy mom, especially coming from an attachment background?” The opposite could not be more true.

In fact, as Robin Grille [author of Parenting for a Peaceful World] has shared with me, the helicopter parenting phenomenon is the polar opposite of Attachment Parenting, which recognizes and respects the child’s developmental needs, not the parent’s need for control and dominance.

Listen to Robin Grille in this API teleseminar, “Peaceful Parenting: Understanding our children’s emotional needs, parents moving societies toward peace.”

I recommend that parents who can’t believe their children are ever going to grow up and leave — and you’re going to be thrilled to watch them fly out of the nest — to read John Breeding’s book Leaving Home. He is dead on right. It is harder for us than it is for them, because their whole job is to grow up and leave, but there is a way for us to meet our own needs in this process because we are growing as well and we are developing. That was a revelation.

API: I love how you say that we, as parents, are growing as well, that we are hitting our own milestones. I think there are so many people — myself included at a point — that think that you grow and then basically you are fully developed, that you are done, and then you become a mother. Really for me and for a lot of AP parents, we figure out that there is a whole lot more to go. That realization is really profound, though it is really simple if you think about it.

LISA: Well, it is a part of what has happened with this consciousness-raising movement that is moving us toward holism, which includes exploring our inner world through mindfulness. There is a whole section in Lysa and Barbara’s book Attached at the Heart on balance, and it is touching on this awareness of your inner world. There are a lot of ways to say that, but what we know is that a parent who is self-aware and self-regulating is the best gift that you are ever going to give a child ever as a model.

Learn more about Balance as one of API’s Eight Principles of Parenting.

Without mindfulness — inner exploration — we unconsciously pass down patterns of behavior and conditioning. This is inner work now is a very crucial part of conscious parenting. In fact, Michael Mendizza, who wrote Magical Parent, Magical Child, says we have to put the focus on ourselves.

Michael and Pearce bring to conscious parenting the belief that play as the most important part of our development as an adult and a child. When you learn to properly play — properly, meaning not to have someone tell you what the rules are, but really letting go and letting your imagination explore — when you learn to play as a child, you learn to play as an adult.

Learn more about the importance of play from Dr. Larry Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, in this API teleseminar, “Playful Parenting: How to lighten up your parenting because it’s fun, loving and effective!”

So, while the big picture can feel overwhelming, the industrial paradigm would have us believe we have to get it — to be experts, to perform and evaluate ourselves. Opting to move into mindfulness, curiosity and playfulness allows us to make room for what is arising with compassion, whether in ourselves or our children. There is so much freedom waiting for parents who are able to and interested in sinking into this conscious parenting movement.

API: You have mentioned so many people who have inspired you, but I want to know more about your partnership with Robin Grille.

LISA: The cool thing about Robin is that he was there with Kindred and Kelly Wendorf, Kindred‘s founder, from the beginning, and he helped to write Kindred’s Childhood Well-Being Manifesto.

As a practicing psychotherapist, he works with families who are shifting and wanting to consciously parent. He is able to be a compassionate champion for parents who take this on and help them to understand their day-to-day challenges of being present and just being with your child. His second book, Heart-to-Heart Parenting, articulates the emotional intelligence and connection paths for families. I am very happy to have Robin as our Australian Contributing Editor for Kindred.

But it is also his work that shows us the truth about the conscious parenting movement, something American parents especially are reluctant to acknowledge for a variety of reasons.  The truth is, the conscious parenting movement is the flip side of human rights for children.

In the United States, it is so hard for us to get our minds around this because of how it sounds. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, it’s some liberal hippy [stuff].” Well, I am here to tell you, and Robin will, too: The end result, the other side of conscious parenting, is that we are recognizing and honoring the rights of children.

In other countries around the world — and this is what Robin was presenting in his Parenting for a Peaceful World tour in the United States in 2013 — what he is helping us to understand is not just the psychosocial history of parenting, but where we are right now. We can’t really see this in the United States. We can’t see it for ourselves, because we don’t have anything to compare it to.

We can’t, for example, imagine, like [API Resource Advisory Council member] Kathy Kendall-Tackett says, that north of us [in Canada], they get 6 months off minimally when they have a baby. She even said that Americans cannot even imagine what support looks like, really. We really cannot even imagine it, because we have not seen it and we have not experienced it. So we don’t really even know what to ask for and demand.

Listen to Dr. Kathy Kendall-Tackett in this API teleseminar, “Making Sense of Parental Depression: I adore my kids, so why am I so unhappy?”

When we move into this arena of politics, people are like, “Oh, I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to go.” Well, you’re already there, and this what Robin points out in his work: that unless you’re staying in bed all day, when you get out of bed, the choices that you make are political choices.

There are plenty of days where I don’t want to hear about any of this stuff. I just don’t want to talk about it. I want to go play in my garden or have dinner with my family and just forget about all of it. But what Robin presents is this very wise, compassionate, practical insight is that we are participating in our culture whether we like it or not. We are participating in public policy every day of our lives. We participate in public policy whether we go to our nation’s capital or our state legislature’s office and ask for this. It doesn’t matter. We are still participating in public policy, because public policy is set and it is enforced on us. If you read [API Advisory Board member] James McKenna’s work on cosleeping, he addresses this beautifully: the civil rights of parents to choose to co-sleep. It is a civil right.

Listen to Dr. James McKenna in this API teleseminar, “Settling the Cosleeping Controversy: Get the facts about cosleeping, SIDS, bedsharing and breastfeeding.”

So here we are, and I forget how many countries around the world have already adopted the rights of the child platform, but the United States is not one. We are one of the only developed countries that also does not have a family leave act either, for example. And in my own state of Virginia, just this year, a law was passed to protect mothers breastfeeding in public.

The public policy place is where a lot of people really shut down and say, “I can’t go there.” It is hard for us to question public policy and to get in there and say this has not served me and my family and I want this to change. It is because we are butting up against our own conditioning. We probably weren’t raised to question authority, to say this doesn’t meet my need or serve humanity and now I’m going to have to work with other people to help change this so that it does.

Barbara and Lysa touched on this idea in Attached at the Heart in the Balance chapter: learning to ask and expect to get what you are asking for, have the expectation that you deserve support and that you deserve to be supported and you deserve to be heard. You have the right to these things. These are human rights.

Sign up for the next training to become an Attached at the Heart Parent Educator

API: Thank you so much, Lisa, for your time and insights. You’ve done amazing things for the Attachment Parenting movement, and you have done some really great things of bringing people together and bringing parents together. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

LISA: I am very excited and grateful to share my “mother (of a) quest” story, as I call it, ha. I love exploring our new story at Kindred, because it’s our story that shapes our worldview, our capacity for big picture adventures.

Joseph Campbell [author of The Power of Myth] says we are the heroes of our own journey. I think this is true and the best model of empowerment we can provide for our children who are set to inherit a volatile world.

API parents are heroes on a conscious parenting journey. Whether they see themselves that way or not, history will.




with Kim John Payne on “Simplicity Parenting”

audio recording now available

“Imagine your life…with a sense of ease as you begin to limit distractions and say ‘no’ to too much, too fast, too soon. Today’s busier, faster, supersized society is waging an undeclared war…on childhood.” ~Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting

Purchase now to listen in as Attachment Parenting International (API) Cofounder and coauthor of Attached at the Heart Barbara Nicholson and parenting author and speaker Lu Hanessian discuss simplicity parenting with world-renowned author Kim John Payne.

This API Live teleseminar is part of API’s 2015 Attachment Parenting Month celebration — with the theme of “Parental Presence: Birthing Families, Strengthening Society” — helping families put in practice what we know is critical for investing in early secure attachment. Our lives cannot be too busy for our children.

Kim John PayneKim John Payne, M.Ed,  is the author of the #1 best-selling book, Simplicity Parenting, in which he outlines a simple, orderly and effective pathway to simplify 4 realms at home — environment, rhythm, scheduling and unplugging — to reduce stress on children and their parents, and allow room for connection, creativity and relaxation.

Kim John Payne’s message helps families recognize the importance of parental presence, even more so in this day and age when so many pressures are taking the focus away from connected parenting. By listening to Kim John Payne’s teleseminar you’ll walk away with a renewed focus for yourself and your family.

Purchase today!